How Outdoor Play Helps EYFS Children Prepare for School

Primary school is a big step up from nursery, with an increasingly structured day and greater emphasis on academic learning. While schools go out of their way to make the transition as easy as possible, many children will find it a challenge. Outdoor play has an important role in getting children ready for primary school and in this post, we’ll explain why.

What do children need to be ready for school?

Often referred to as ‘school readiness’, by the time children reach the age of five, they are expected to have acquired the essential skills and knowledge needed to start school. They should be comfortable leaving their parents, understand language, be able to listen to and follow instructions, be able to articulate thoughts, feelings and needs, interact appropriately with other pupils and staff, focus on tasks, take responsibility for their actions and understand how to share things.

These are important because, once they reach school, they’ll be expected to follow school rules, behave in a responsible manner and actively participate in learning activities. While still in an EYFS setting, outdoor play can help children acquire these skills as it gives them opportunities to communicate, collaborate, cooperate and share. This will help them to be more socially, emotionally and intellectually developed prior to beginning school, something which research has shown to improve the chances of academic success across their entire educational journey.


Barriers to school readiness

There are several barriers that can prevent children from being fully prepared for primary school.  For most, these are a lack of social, emotional and physical skills. Socially, some children struggle to develop relationships with their peers and don’t know how to be polite or play and learn appropriately. Other children may find it difficult to control their emotions or recognise and understand the feelings of others. This may prevent them from being able to focus on tasks, deal with challenging situations or even participate in group work. The lack of fitness or physical skills can also cause issues, slowing down learning where coordination and dexterity are required or limiting participation in the physical playground activities that are so important for fostering relationships.

How outdoor play helps

One of the key differences between nursery and primary school is regimentation. While EYFS focuses on learning through play, schools have far more structure, with days divided into lessons and lessons divided into structured activities. They require children to be more organised and follow more rules and instructions. In an EYFS setting, staff can provide opportunities to prepare children for this increased regimentation, for example, by playing games with rules, providing time limits for activities and setting challenges that require children to follow instructions. All of these, of course, can be done in a fun way that is in keeping with the EYFS way of doing things.

Similarly, outdoor play encourages children to interact with others, develop empathy and use good manners. This can be achieved in many ways, such as participating together in sports or games, taking part in roleplay or creative activities, sharing toys and equipment or helping and encouraging each other to complete challenges on Trim Trails or climbing equipment. Developing these skills at this age will mean children are more prepared for the transition to primary school.

At the same time, outdoor play can help overcome the barriers to school readiness. It encourages children to participate in activities together, which, in turn, helps build relationships and fosters the social behaviours, like sharing and turn-taking,  expected in primary school. Playing together also enables children to express their emotions, understand the feelings of others and through this, develop empathy. Providing opportunities for roleplay is particularly helpful for this. Of course, equipment like climbing frames also boosts physical fitness, coordination, stamina and dexterity.


To prepare children for primary school, it’s important to create an outdoor environment where play can be used to help them learn the essential skills they’ll need. The most effective solution is to create play zones specially designed for different activities, such as climbing zones, messy play areas, sensory zones, roleplay and creative play areas, a place for quiet conversation and open spaces to run around in and play traditional schoolyard games. By designing your playground with the right zones and the most suitable equipment to meet the needs of your children, you can more effectively ensure that they’ll be school ready when the time comes. And with the wide range of playground equipment available today, you’ll be able to cater for every child’s needs.

For more information about our wide range of nursery playground equipment, visit our Early Years page.


How Cooperative Play Benefits EYFS Pupils

As children develop and advance through school both their play and their learning require them to cooperate with others and work in groups. In this post, we’ll take a look at the importance of cooperative play and shed some light on how schools can facilitate it in order to hasten pupil development.

What is cooperative play?

Cooperative play is any kind of play that involves children working together to produce an outcome. This can be an organised or structured activity that seeks to achieve a specific goal and where roles and responsibilities are shared out, such as taking part in a game of football or, alternatively, a more spontaneous form of play, such as working together to build a sandcastle or even taking part in a roleplay. Typical attributes of cooperative play include communication, the sharing of ideas, the evaluation of strategies, the distribution of tasks and a common goal that everyone needs to work towards.

While cooperative activities are regularly done in the classroom, facilitating them during play helps young children develop those skills even more. Indeed, many forms of cooperative play are best suited to unstructured free time where children can create them on the spot. By being both fun and educational, cooperative play increases enthusiasm for the shared task and increases attention spans, helping to optimise the learning that takes place. At the same time, it also helps to develop other key skills: physical, emotional, cognitive and social.

The other important benefit of cooperative play is that it allows children to participate in, experience and understand different roles. They’ll learn what it’s like to be both a leader and a follower and even discover new roles that they might like.

Team sports

Team sports tick all the boxes when it comes to cooperative play. There’s a clearly defined goal, everyone has their own role (defender, attacker, etc.) there’s a leadership hierarchy with a team captain and in order to achieve the team’s objective, all the players have to communicate, share ideas and work together.

Providing opportunities for team sports to take place can be achieved affordably through the use of sports markings which are available for a wide variety of team sports, including cricket, football, basketball, rounders and netball. Nets, goals and other equipment are also available to create a finished sports pitch or court if required.


Roleplay involves increasingly complex levels of cooperation. Firstly, it requires all the children in the group to collaborate in order to establish the roleplay. Each must take on a role and agree to step into the imagined reality of the situation, whether that’s at the local supermarket or in outer space.

Once the roleplay has begun, the children have to cooperate to make it work. This requires them to accept and playout the roles of the characters, a situation where there is often a leader and followers and where there are accepted behavioural norms that everyone will expect to be followed. Whether playing a parent, teacher, child or an alien from Mars, the children will need to act and interact accordingly.

What makes roleplay even better for developing cooperative skills is that children can often improvise scenarios where the characters need to fulfil a task, such as rescuing a friend from pirates or taking a child to the doctors to mend a broken arm. So, beyond the cooperation of children working together as an acting ensemble, there’s a deeper layer of cooperation where the characters themselves are working together to achieve a further goal.

While teachers can initiate roleplay, proscribing the characters and roles to be played, young children are quite adept at instigating their own improvisations. Inspiring them to do so is best achieved by installing playground equipment that lends itself to invention. This includes play towers that look like medieval castles, pirate-ship-style play boats, climb-on trains and carriages, shop kiosks, wigwams, tunnels and bridges.

Making things together

The final way to encourage cooperative play is to give pupils opportunities to make things together. Children love to work collaboratively in mud kitchens and sandpits, whether that’s cooking up pretend pies or building sandcastles. Alternatively, drawing and chalkboards placed in the playground provide plenty of scope for small groups to produce jointly made artwork. For the ultimate ensemble, why not install some playground percussion instruments, like xylophones and drainpipe drums, so the children can collaborate in making music together?


Children will need cooperative skills during their education and throughout their lives. Fostering the development of these skills at an early age can have a positive impact on their personal development and academic progress. Hopefully, this post has explained how these skills can benefit EYFS children and how you can facilitate their development through play.

For more information, visit our Products page.


Top Playground Markings For EYFS and Infant Pupils

outdoor classrooms

Affordable and easy to install, playground markings are a cost-effective way to transform your EYFS or infant school playground. What’s more, they are now available in a wide variety of designs, enabling you to broaden the range of play and learning activities you offer outdoors and improve outcomes for younger children. Here, we’ll look at what we think are the top playground markings for EYFS and infants.

Sports playground markings for younger children

Although younger children might not fully understand the rules, getting them to participate in sports by kicking or throwing a ball around a marked out sports pitch can have enormous benefits. One of the most important is in improving a child’s health and fitness. Besides being great fun, chasing a ball around is also quite a demanding physical activity that can boost cardiovascular health, improve general fitness and even have a positive impact on mental wellbeing. Additionally, the familiarity of taking part on a marked out pitch can help children as they learn the rules of the sports and become more skilled participants.

While there is a good range of sports markings available, for affordability and to cope with limited space, the best option for EYFS and infant schools is to opt for multi-court markings, such as our 3-in-1 futsal (mini-football), netball and basketball court. With the different sports markings highlighted in different colours, it is ideal for offering multiple sports when you have a small playground. Goals and nets can also be purchased to make your facilities complete.

Agility, balance and coordination skills markings

Agility, balance and coordination development is an important requirement in both EYFS and Key Stage 1. These skills are acquired through practice and one of the best ways that schools can facilitate progress is to provide resources that not only provide opportunities to take part but which also motivate children to have a go.

ESP has a wide range of agility, balance and coordination markings, including steppers, twisty lines, footwork chess, and agility ladders. These help children learn to move forwards, backwards and side to side by taking steps, hops and jumps.

Roadway markings

Our roadway markings have an important double-function. While they are fantastic fun to play on or even pedal around on a trike, they also provide a perfectly safe place in which to help children learn about road safety, both as a pedestrian and a bike user.

Featuring dual-direction roads with central markings, zebra crossings, traffic lights, roundabouts, yellow box junctions, parking bays and a petrol station, children can learn about how traffic systems work and what they need to do to stay safe. It will help them know which direction traffic travels in on roads and roundabouts, learn where, when and how to cross a road and understand the dangers of car parks and petrol stations.

Of course, the markings give unlimited play opportunities, with children using them to take many a roleplay road-trip or to pedal their trikes around a realisic roadway.

Letters and phonics markings

With literacy in early years and infant schools starting with letter learning and the teaching of phonics, what better way to enhance this than by having fun practising in the playground? Today, there are several letter and phonics markings available. These include an alphabet target, an A to Z letter stepper, a footwork vowels stepper and our Phonics Spots stepper which features ten of the most common phonics sounds. As children play on these, they’ll also be able to practice naming the letters and saying the sounds, helping them improve their overall literacy skills.

Number markings

Similar to literacy markings, number markings also help children acquire numeracy skills while having fun in the playground. These help children learn to recognise numbers, count forwards and backwards and learn number sequences.

There is a good range of numeracy markings suitable for EYFS and infant pupils. These include compass hopscotch (suitable for 4 children to play at the same time), Hex Steps, a 1-100 mathematical number grid, a number arch and our Shapes and Ladders game.

Wider learning markings

In addition to learning the fundamental skills, there are also opportunities to introduce markings that widen learning into other areas. Our weather markings, for example, display commonly used weather signs, such as a cloud, sunshine, umbrella and snowflake, as well as introducing the days of the school week. Meanwhile, our Multi-Markings introduce the basic compass directions, our Alpha Clock displays clock hours and our Shapes markings let children learn about circles, triangles, squares, rectangles and pentagons.


Playground markings are an excellent and affordable choice for EYFS and infant schools. They help children to be fitter and healthier while facilitating the development of agility, balance and coordination; they let pupils learn about road safety, literacy and numeracy and they provide opportunities for wider learning. Most importantly, of course, they look very inviting and are great fun to play on.

For more information, visit our Playground Markings page.


Discover the Latest Playground Equipment for Schools

The innovative minds here at ESP Play are always looking for new and better ways to help children learn and play in the school playground. Our latest playground equipment is designed to engage and enthral, motivating pupils to take an active part in physical and creative pursuits, whether that’s for learning or just for fun. Here are just some of the exciting new products we have on offer.

New imaginative playground equipment

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Our already wide range of imaginative playground equipment has expanded even more with the addition of eleven new products. These include two playboats, Liberty and Spirit. At almost 4m long and 1.7m wide, the Liberty allows your pupils' creativity to set sail on many adventures. Complete with onboard seating, flagged mast, ship’s wheel, sail shade, a bow to lean on and a plank to walk, its ideal for imaginative play. Alternatively, there’s the Spirit, a twin decked vessel with a raised quarterdeck, accessed via a ship’s ramp, steps and climbing holds. The top deck features two telescopes, a porthole, a flagged mast and a ship's wheel. On the lower deck, you’ll find seating for the crew, a walking plank, a tall bow and a chalkboard where Blackbeard can draw the map to the treasure.

Other new, imaginative play equipment incorporates a wide use of chalkboards. These include a worktable, sorting trough, activity bench and signposts. There’s also a coat and bag station where things can be safely hung up out of the way during outdoor activities.

New playground markings

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We’ve added 14 new playground markings to our existing collection. These include a variety of blank markings where we’ve removed numbers from the original designs. The Blank Circles, Multicoloured Circle Grid, Number Snake, Orange Way Number Ladder and giant 100 Square Blank Grid enable teachers to increase the challenge by getting pupils to fill in the numbers themselves with chalk or ask them to count without seeing the numbers.

We’ve also introduced other new playground markings, including basic shape markings, an EYFS Target Trainer and Ring Step and a fun Open Ended Frog Pond, complete with frog.

New Free Flow Packages

literacy and phonics

Free Flow is a popular, modular climbing frame system that provides lots of excitement in the school playground. It motivates children to increase participation in physical activity and to develop important physical skills like coordination and balance. It also helps pupils challenge themselves, deal better with risk and develop resilience.

Our latest Free Flow packages are Endeavour, Adventure, Pursuit and Quest. From the smallest system, Endeavour, through to the largest, Quest, you’ll find a growing range of climbing and other physical challenges. Quest offers the widest variety of features, including jungle bars, a traversing wall, a swinging tyre bridge, spiderweb ropes, balance beams, balance ropes and more. The Free Flow system is suitable for children aged 5 to 16.

New-fangled Tangled equipment

literacy and phonics


Our Tangled rope and beam challenge equipment has always been a highly popular choice for schools and we’ve made some significant updates to our range. First of all, we’ve added three brand new pieces. These are The Redback, The Nest and The Labyrinth. The Labyrinth is ideal for smaller spaces, being just 4.4m long and just over 1m wide. It also has no start or end point so pupils can get on and start playing from anywhere.

The Nest is over twice the width of The Labyrinth and offers a higgledy-piggledy set of fun climbing challenges that children will need to negotiate. With a wide range of starting points and an almost endless set of routes, there’ll always be lots of ways to enjoy this piece of apparatus. At over 5m long and 2.7m wide, The Redback is designed for larger playgrounds and offers even more opportunities to participate in physical activity, increase challenge and develop important skills, while also having lots of fun.

Aside from our new Tangled equipment, we’ve also updated some of our existing pieces. The Funnel Web, Lynx, Black Widow, Orb Weaver, Tarantula, Wolf, Huntsman and Nursery Web pieces now also come in painted versions, with black and green posts adding a touch of drama that makes them even more appealing to play on.


Working with schools up and down the country, we’re constantly getting ideas about the types of equipment children like to play on and the kinds of activities teachers need them to take part in. With these in mind, our team are constantly looking to improve our range of products to better meet the needs of pupils and teachers alike. Hopefully, you will find the latest playground equipment,  highlighted here, of value for your school.

For more information visit our New Products page.


EYFS Playground for Westbourne Primary School

School: Westbourne Primary School

Location: Bradford, West Yorkshire

Westbourne Primary is a larger than average-sized, two-form entry primary school in Bradford, West Yorkshire, catering for around 475 pupils from nursery age through to year 6. The school had recently appointed a new headteacher who immediately identified that improvements needed to be made to the quality of EYFS outdoor provision. When choosing a playground developer to undertake the project, the headteacher carried out in-depth due diligence by assessing eight different companies before making a final decision.

The challenge 

Upon appointment to their new post, the headteacher immediately found the EYFS outdoor space did not enable Westbourne Primary School to deliver high-quality provision for its pupils. The area was tired, outdated, in need of serious cosmetic improvement and lacked the facilities pupils needed. The existing space did not offer suitable progression between the indoor and outdoor provision and the majority of activities needed to be teacher-led. The lack of opportunity for children to initiate their own play, to free-flow or self-discover new experiences was also a concern.

Before Installation

The brief

ESP Play was asked to design and install a new playground area that was more inviting, stimulating and engaging for EYFS children. As part of this, the development needed to provide a variety of play and learning experiences, including those where children could initiate and take part in free play. At the same time, the headteacher wanted to expand the outdoor opportunities that pupils had to develop their communication and language skills and to participate in problem-solving activities.

The project

ESP Play began by undertaking a thorough site survey before working with the school to design a new playground which would meet educational and school improvement objectives required from its investment. Once the design was agreed, a commencement date was established. Work began by installing new surfacing to the playground. This involved a variety of different surfaces, used to define the different play zones. These included block paving, resin bound gravel and artificial grass, some of which included playground markings, such as the ‘Roadway’. We then proceeded to build the water-play feature and raised messy play area.

The playground design included several pieces of climbing equipment, including an underground tunnel with an artificially grassed mound, log stairs, twisty challenges and a large, centrepiece Tangled climbing frame. In addition, we made much use of the available wall space by installing a magnetic water wall, body warping mirrors, whiteboards and chalkboards. A wooden play hut, tepee posts, triangular stage, benches, picnic table and various other pieces were also installed.

The results

The finished design transformed the outdoor space for Westbourne’s pupils, providing more opened areas for play, that were both safe and inviting for children to play on. Our carefully created zones meant space could be used more effectively and safely while providing a much wider range of age-appropriate activities for children to participate in.

After Installation

The outcome

As a result, outdoor EYFS provision is much improved at the school. Pupils are able to take part in far more free play and learning activities and do so more independently. There are also more opportunities to engage in communications and develop language skills and to problem-solve.

Overall, the school was very impressed with the educational knowledge ESP applied to the design and with the quality of the final products and installation. All areas had relevance and purpose but retained an open-ended interpretation of use. The school was delighted with the quality of the finished play area. The service was praised as the installation took place in school time without disruption to the school day. Attention to detail from design, product selection, quality of product and EYFS relevance and purpose was praised from the chair of governors, the Trust CEO, the headteacher, EYFS lead and teaching staff.